Are low-cost airlines flying into a storm?
Wednesday 14 April 2010
US legislators have joined consumer rights groups in criticizing new charges levied by low-cost airlines, raising the possibility of a confrontation with budget carriers as public opinion turns.
Spirit Airlines' decision to charge passengers up to $45 for hand luggage taken onto a flight, which some fear could spread to other airlines, drew condemnation from US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who branded the charge "outrageous".
"We're gonna hold the airline's feet to the fire on this," said LaHood in an interview with travel site Elliott.org. "I think it's a bit outrageous that an airline is going to charge someone to carry on a bag and put it in the overhead. And I've told our people to try and figure out a way to mitigate that."
New York Democrat Senator Charles Schumer has also said that he will attempt to introduce legislation to block the move by Spirit. In an email on April 11, Schumer called the move a "slap in the face to travelers."
Discontent is growing on both sides of the Atlantic. On April 6, British consumer group Which? accused budget airline Ryanair of cashing in on summer travelers by raising its checked bag fees by one third during the peak July and August travel period, warning that flying with Ryanair "is not always as cheap as it first appears."
"Ryanair might claim that they are incentivising people to travel light, but we think it is more a case of penalising those families who can only go away on holiday during this time, said Rochelle Turner, Head of Research for Which? Holiday.
In a recent interview in Stockholm, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary branded a Swedish consumer rights group a "bunch of idiots" for ordering Ryanair to compensate a family who were reportedly left stranded when the aircraft they were booked to depart on landed in a different airport, nearly 40 km away.
PR-savvy O'Leary then fuelled the fire by saying that Ryanair had not ruled out charging passengers to use the bathroom on flights. FlyersRights.org, an airline consumer organization, called for the US Congress to ban both Spirit's carry-on charges and toilet fees, such as those proposed by Ryanair, immediately.
"The commercial airlines have reached a new low by attempting to charge passengers for the right to place their luggage in the overhead bins," said Flyers Rights President and Founder, Kate Hanni. "It seems they will continue try and squeeze out every dollar they can from passengers, regardless of economic hardship, inconvenience or humiliation."
Low-cost airlines make a large percentage of their profits through "ancillary charges," which allows them to reduce the price of a basic ticket. However, the mood of the public now appears to be shifting against such charges - less than 10 percent of respondents to a recent poll on TripAdvisor said that they would be willing to pay for carry-on luggage.
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